Kevin Durant will have many options, but OKC looks most likely

OAKLAND, Calif. -- We did not just witness Kevin Durant's farewell game in Oklahoma City Thunder colors.

At least that's how it felt here late Monday night.

We'd love to be more declarative than that, giving you all of July's news today, but it's not feasible to go much further with the subject of Durant's future at the moment, essentially one month out from the beginning of his first real foray into free agency.

Too much can happen in that span to be any bolder than reiterating what stands as the most likely July scenario for Durant as we dribble into ‎June.

Especially when -- as one source close to the process insisted here after the Thunder's devastating Game 7 defeat in the Western Conference finals -- Durant himself wouldn't be able yet to forecast how his summer on the open market will go.

Even if he wanted to.

Not until he has some time to step away from the glare, establish some distance from the ever-curious masses, truly digest the season that just ended so abruptly and then start digging into his options.

However ...

We can, at the very least, review that aforementioned Most Likely Scenario.

As covered in this cyberspace in May, when we detailed the San Antonio Spurs' plan to make a free-agent run at No. 35, most of the league's best-placed observers on the subject continue to see Durant's most probable choice as staying in OKC for the short term. That would mean signing a two-year deal with a player option after Year 1 that allows him to return to free agency in July 2017 ... alongside Russell Westbrook.

Get used to that idea until the hard evidence at our disposal forces a revision.

By going that route, Durant would give himself at least one more shot to bring a championship to a city, state and franchise he loves -- "[He] wants to win in Oklahoma as bad as anybody," Durant's agent, Rich Kleiman, told Marc Spears of The Undefeated -- while preserving his own flexibility to move on should Westbrook decide he wants to go elsewhere when it's his turn in a year.

Going short term this summer would not only keep the pressure on the Thunder to keep upgrading their roster to Durant's satisfaction, but also set up KD and Russ to potentially share simultaneous exits to new locales in 13 months' time if they so choose, presumably easing the emotional toll (and resulting heat) for both in the process.

The financial particulars, meanwhile, only make it a wiser course of action. Were Durant to be a free agent again in July 2017, coming off his 10th season, he'd be eligible for a projected starting annual salary in excess of $35 million -- compared to a projected $25.9 million this summer -- because of service time and the looming mammoth salary-cap spike into the $100 million stratosphere that will take hold for the 2017-18 season.

To spell out that difference further: If he plays next season on a short-term deal, Durant would be eligible for a five-year max deal with Oklahoma City in July 2017 that would potentially top $200 million, or a four-year max with another team in the $150 million range.

If Durant simply signed a five-year max deal this summer with the Thunder, it would be valued at an estimated $150 million.

So, yeah.

There's a lot for Durant's many hopeful suitors to overcome.

Doesn't mean they won't try, of course.

Wizards, Celtics, Heat, Knicks, Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, Spurs and, yes, Warriors ... that's merely where the list of teams known to be actively seeking the chance to court KD face-to-face stands. Aggressive teams like the Raptors and Blazers will presumably try their luck too. And there will surely be others we don't see yet.

As one member of the fallen visitors' inner circle noted after Durant's fourth-quarter surge couldn't quite deny the Warriors in Game 7: It's far easier to make a list of the teams that won't have the requisite cap space and ambition to try their luck in a month, thanks to the forthcoming Crazy Cap Spike of 2016, than a list of teams that do.

Yet where, really, can Durant find a more prosperous situation than the one he has now? Who else out there can afford him such a huge measure of franchise and community ownership on top of title contention with what for so much of the these Western Conference finals looked like the league's longest and most athletic team?

Where else could he be flanked by such a hungry, all-world sidekick?

Answer: Provided Durant eventually concludes that the concept of joining up with Stephen Curry in the Bay Area, or going to San Antonio, would invite much more bandwagon-hopping scorn than it's worth, there's only Oklahoma City.

The Thunder, for now, have to live with the ignominy of becoming just the 10th team in NBA history to take a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven series and fail to hold it, which in some ways stings worse than getting smoked 4-0 or 4-1. This league hasn't seen that sort of unraveling in the conference finals since Thunder assistant Mo Cheeks and his Philadelphia 76ers teammates let the same 3-1 advantage slip to the Boston Celtics back in 1981.

The Thunder have to live with the reality that Durant and Westbrook -- after following their momentous second-round upset of the Spurs with a four-game burst against Golden State in which they had never looked so dangerous together -- slid right off the mountain in Game 6 at home with a chance to clinch a long-awaited return to the NBA Finals. To take that 3-1 series lead, Durant played the best two-way ball of his life while Westbrook was finding his finest balance between Angry Russ and the floor general his many critics have always wanted him to be.

But by series' end, thanks to the shaky manner in which they closed, all those annoying, old questions about OKC's crunch-time frailties were back in circulation.

The Thunder, though, can take comfort in the knowledge that Durant and Westbrook have never been closer off the court. It's no accident they go to the podium in tandem, win or lose, after every playoff game. No one is suggesting that means they plan to spend their entire careers side by side, but there's little doubt they yearn to break through as champions as a tag team.

Some eight years earlier, in this same building, Durant had 42 points and 13 rebounds in the final game of his debut season with the Seattle SuperSonics in a win over the Warriors. Yet pretty much everyone knew, on that mid-April night in 2008, that the Sonics were leaving, taking their scary-good Rookie of the Year with them to Oklahoma City.

Nothing was that obvious on the final night of the Thunder's momentous 2015-16 campaign, in which Durant so spectacularly returned from last season's three foot surgeries and his team blossomed so suddenly in May to nearly become the first club ever to knock off two teams with at least 65 wins in a single postseason.

After Durant successfully dodged free-agency talk for much of the past eight months, hints and whispers are starting to circulate at last, leading most of us to believe that Durant is staying put in the Great Plains for at least one more shot at the title.

Yet there are no givens.

None beyond the fact that the NBA Finals open Thursday night without the Thunder ... and that the Kevin Durant Sweepstakes starts now.